RAWK Advent Calendar 2015 Day 3 - Dortmund Dreams (UEFA Cup Final 2001)

Posted by Jaron on December 1, 2015, 04:30:18 PM


Some games are difficult to put into words. Existing in memories as exotic, half-remembered dreams. Try as you might to describe them to those who were absent, you often just end up shrugging your shoulders with an apologetic smirk.

“Mate. You kind of... had to be there...”

Because how can words do justice to such a sensational game of footy. The magnificence of the venue, the fabulously friendly camaraderie between rival fans. The soaring ups and crushing downs of a two hour emotional rollercoaster, and its glorious rapturous climax.

There was a moment as we drove eastwards through Belgium that morning, skirting past the signs to Bruges, each a wistful reminder of glories past. Like many in our little red convoy, our scarves were pressed against the back window, proudly proclaiming our allegiance. Then a car passed us, a red scarf trailing out the passenger window, whipping erratically in its slipstream. We looked across at its occupants, who saluted us with wide smiles and three raised fingers. No words were necessary, we understood immediately. Let’s do this. The Treble.

We’d sailed across the English Channel on a high, four days earlier Michael Owen’s genius had clinched the FA Cup. On the boat, red shirts and scarves were everywhere. But it was an atmosphere of quiet anticipation, rather than exuberance. More were dozing than drinking. Because this was a mid-morning sailing, those who’d driven down from Liverpool to Dover had made a very early start. They were easily spotted, slumped in their seats, sleeping.

I raised three fingers in reply, and to the other red-decked cars we passed along the way. There was a mounting sense of expectation, of history in the making. That a decade of excruciating mediocrity and disappointment seemed to be coming to an end.

We drove past the signs to Brussels, the scene of our last tragic European final. Onwards into the Netherlands, and then Germany, you couldn’t help but glance at the signs pointing to Mönchengladbach. Europe, how we’d missed you.

We finally arrived in Dortmund at 2pm, parking on the outskirts taking the metro train into the city using the free travel thoughtfully included in our match tickets. We headed towards the Altemarkt, the old town square where the fans' party was taking place. It was a hot sultry Spring day, but above us the skies were ominously black. Our arrival coincided with a tempestuous downpour, the kind of storm that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote songs about.

Perhaps though, the deluge was a blessing in disguise. Dashing for cover we found a café nearby, giving us the opportunity to sample the regional food and drink and mingle with some of the travelling Basque supporters: a very pleasant bunch who responded to Liverpool songs in good humour with chants of their own. In fact the atmosphere was so friendly that the two sets of supporters were soon swapping scarves, flags and shirts.

A few mobile phone calls, and we summon some friends to our venue. By now the downpour had stopped and the sun was shining again, so we began walking south towards the stadium, stopping halfway at a local pub to soak up some more atmosphere (and liquid refreshment). Here the canon of Reds' songs was recited for the benefit of the locals present, I'm not sure how much they understood, but they cheered along with us all the same.

With a couple of hours ‘til kickoff, we set off for the stadium itself, joining a crowd that had swelled sufficiently to sustain a strong rendition of 'Scouser Tommy'. One underpass was used to good effect, with a standing chant of 'Gérard, Gérard Houllier' continued by those entering it. Meanwhile the police kept a discreet presence, treating the fans as guests rather than cattle and contributing to the good-natured atmosphere. We laid to rest the ghost of Heysel in Dortmund.

Getting into the ground was the only point where our hosts' legendary efficiency broke down. There weren't enough stewards at the gates so the crowd built up faster than it could be admitted. But once inside we could appreciate the Westfalenstadion in all its glory.

Put simply, it was a marvel. Four huge cantilever stands giving all 65000 seats unobstructed views. Superb acoustics and no running track meant songs from one stand easily reached the opposite end of the stadium, generating a superb enveloping atmosphere. The magnificent expanse of the Nordtribüne became home to the Kop for the night. I was sitting high in the east stand, level with the edge of the box, overlooking a seething sea of red.

As the teams ran out, you could tell the stage was set for something memorable.

The pre-match huddle that epitomised the new Liverpool spirit is greeted with a deafening roar that sets the tone for the night. The team responds, and from kickoff we go for the throat. 3 minutes later we're already in dreamland as Babbel nods Gary Mac’s perfect free kick home. Yes!

Playing as if we had a point to prove to the Cruyff family we continue to attack their nervy 3 man defence. The second goal is a beauty of quick passing, Hamann to Owen, a perfect pass, Gerrard scores. Get in! Needless to say we're now going bananas, this start is beyond our wildest dreams. 16 minutes gone. 2-0!

Before the game my friend Kev predicted we Reds would give the Alavés supporters the respect they deserved, and he was right, instead of the shitty jibes we celebrate by singing the manager's praises. You might remember some of the classics of the time: "Hou let the Reds out?", or going west with "Gérard, Gérard Houllier..."

With the party atmosphere in full swing we begin to start thinking of achieving the treble with a 4 or 5-nil scoreline. As do a few of our players it seems, tackles began to be missed, red shirts slow to a jog, men aren't closed down, and out of nothing a cross is headed into the goal below us. Bugger.

Come on you Reds! The inspirational mood returns and our team dominates the rest of the half. Didi Hamann (again) plays in Owen who's tripped by the keeper as he rounds him. It’s as clear a penalty as night follows day. 30000 voices bay for his dismissal, but luckily for the record books, the ref leniently shows him yellow. Gary Mac takes the spot kick, never ever doubt, 3-1. And the party atmosphere is back!

Whistle blows. Three sides of the ground roar in unison. Half time. Take a breath.

By way of half-time entertainment, how about a trivia question.
What do the following footballers have in common?

Pepe Reina, Michael Reiziger, Frank de Boer, Pep Guardiola, Phillip Cocu, Patrick Kluivert, Rivaldo, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, Luis Enrique and Carles Puyol.

Answer comes later.

During the interval Anfield announcer George pops up on the tannoy encouraging us to keep the noise up. We do our best, but the Alavés players were even more fired up, back on the pitch a full 5 minutes before kickoff. Bouncing, bustling, cajoling like a set of blue and yellow coiled springs. They start the half at frantic pace, catching us completely cold. Barely a minute in and left-back Carra is torn to bits by the impressive Cosmin Contra, a deep cross - and Javi Moreno scores. Oh bollocks.

We're still licking our mental wounds when the ref awards a series of debatable free-kicks. Moreno shoots low direct from the D and we see the net at the far end bulging. He’s just scored twice in three minutes. We can't believe it, and the Alavés fans behind that goal go absolutely mental. 3-3. Oh shit.

For the next few minutes we Reds sit stunned and subdued. For all I know the Alavés supporters could have been singing "Shall we sing a song for you?" in Basque. Whatever, they’re making all the noise now.

Probably feeling that the best form of defence is attack, Ged hauls off Henchoz and puts on Vlad. Given our defence is having a collective 'mare it's a huge gamble, but the incredible  Steven Gerrard moves to right-back and the ship is steadied. Just like he’d do 4 years later in extra-time in Istanbul. Funny how things turn out.

We Reds find our voices again. The game is really open now, Heskey has had a few chances but hasn't taken them, so there's a huge cheer when we see God about to come on. His appearance whips the Reds support back into a fervour, and we begin to start playing like we did in the first half. Fast. Direct. Threatening.

Then the best move of the night, a patient build up releases God into the box, he feints, runs on and places a shot just inside the far post. And the ground explodes into a deafening din. No words, just cheering, hugs, yells at the clouds and fists in the air. Already a classic match, it's now become a footballing fairytale. Unbelievable.

Now the Alavés fans are stunned to near-silence, but we still don't look comfortable, so Ged replaces Owen with Paddy Berger. But our opponents keep on coming, their fans roaring them on, and now we’re the ones hanging on. A striker breaks into our box and falls over, luckily the ref sees through that one and he's booked.

We breathe again. Come on Reds, let's not do an Arsenal. Not that we’d be playing high with arms in the air, by now we’re sitting so deep.

A few minutes left, we're trying to sing YNWA but the constant Alavés pressure throttles it. Sander saves us twice but the price is a last minute corner. This time our keeper is beaten to the ball and it's in! We’ve been standing pretty much since Robbie scored, urging the lads on to one last effort, so it's almost a reflex reaction when we slump to our seats with our heads in our hands.

4-4. And it's Manc reject Jordi Bloody Cruyff. Oh fuck that.

The elation that followed Robbie's masterstroke now wears off and notice I'm hoarse from shouting, my hands are aching from clapping. In fact I hurt all over, talk about your dreams being tossed and blown. I half expect Alavés to score a winner in injury time but it never quite comes.

The ref’s whistle peeps. We blow out our cheeks and exchange looks with those around us, which basically just say: did that really just happen?

Let's take a breather. Remember the half-time trivia question? What did you think?

The correct answer is: those eleven players lined up for Barcelona in the 2nd leg of the semi-final at Anfield. A pretty spectacular line-up, wasn’t it? Yet we beat them over two legs. Never let anyone tell you this was a second-rate competition.

An announcement comes over the tannoy: this tie will be decided by the Golden Goal rule. Groans, born of the realisation that extra time will be torture to watch. But we channel our energies into motivating the team, the best way we know of hiding our anxieties, and as extra time starts we find our voices again. "Oh when the Reds..."

The chant almost chokes in our throats as Alavés run through us almost from the kickoff. We clear, then Berger almost does the same. By now the tension and noise are incredible, when we attack the Alavés support on the giant Südtribüne whistle for all they're worth, it's like hearing a jumbo jet take off. In return we respond to their attacks with roars.

Then one of their forwards commits one foul too many, it’s a second yellow and he’s off. A man up, the tide begins to turn, we begin to dominate. Our back line is now just Sami and Carra whilst Markus Babbel and Stevie G push forward. Death or glory!

It's end to end stuff, but too often we only have God alone up front. Time ticks away, but we're still urging our heroes on, with speech now too painful our encouragement takes the form of claps and guttural roars.

Then a clever Vlad spin wide on the left flank fools his marker, who's booked for a second time and sent off. It's Karmona their captain and defensive rock, Alavés now have 9 men and there's 4 minutes left. There's a buzz of expectation as Sami jogs into the box, we're on our feet again, expecting a Gary Mac Goodison Special, or an unstoppable header from the captain’s forehead.

In it comes, and from 100 metres away, we see the net bulging.

A split-second of disbelief - and then absolute delirium breaks out! Joy magnified by relief multiplied by the glory of what we've just achieved. Even that doesn't do the experience justice.

Afterwards a replay on the big screen showed it was an own goal, but we couldn't have cheered it any louder if it had been a bullet header from God himself.

The celebrations involved pretty much every song we know, spine-tingling renditions of YNWA, praise for Houllier, the team, the club. It only stopped when our opponents went to collect their medals, when we joined their fans in singing "Alavés, Alavés, Alavés" as loud as our aching voices could bear. We wanted to make sure they knew how much we respected their achievement, they were bloody good. We were just slightly better.

Then our turn, the players gather on the podium and Robbie and Sami stride forward to jointly lift the cup, and we're in dreamland. The team assembles in front of the big North stand, YNWA starts on the tannoy and everybody, players, management and fans sing it together. A memory to treasure.

We'd just won the Treble, 5-4, in a match that will be talked about for decades.

Ever since, I’ve always had a soft spot for Dortmund. I’ve no idea where Jürgen Klopp was that night. In 2001 he was a jobbing full back, about to retire from playing to become the new manager of Mainz. His own love affair with Dortmund was still more than seven years away. But it’s funny how paths eventually cross.

Later, we left the stadium, bouncing on our aching limbs into the warm night air. This kind of euphoria doesn't occur often in life, it was a precious life-affirming state of being, one that made all the tribulations and heartaches of being a football fan seem worthwhile. Buzzing with exhilaration, it no longer mattered that it was late at night and we were in a faraway country, or that we still had to make the long journey home, or any of the other petty inconveniences. If you watched the game on telly, you probably went off to your comfy bed with a smile on your face. Us? We slept in the car that night, eventually.

Shakespeare knew the feeling.

"And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
[of that night in Dortmund when we won the treble]”

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